Friday, January 21, 2011

Going to Eritrea for Lunch

I went to Eritrea for lunch the other day with my friends Liz and Eitan. At least that's the initial story I've been telling people. Israel is home to hundreds of thousands of "foreigners" from China, Nepal, Thailand, the Philippines, and a variety of different African countries. Their presence and social issues relating to them are one of the more controversial and divisive issues in Israeli society at the moment.

Putting these issues aside, at least in this blog post, these groups have brought their culinary traditions to the country. The area around the old and new bus stations in Tel Aviv is home to many of these groups, and small ethnic restaurants are starting to pop up in the area. I went to eat at one of these places called Yergelum. I had read about Yergelum in Haaretz a few months back, and this article would play a crucial role in my meal as I would later find out.

Yergelum serves traditional Eritrean food, which is very similar to Ethiopian food. Injera, the Teff based bread, is a staple and it is used to scoop up the various dishes served to us. Upon entering Yergelum I received stares from dozen or so Eritreans who are clearly not used to see Israelis walk in to the restaurant.

You order not by the Amharic only menu, rather by pointing to the picture of the dish you want from the newspaper article.

Ordering was one of the highlights of the experience at Yergelum. The menu doesn't have a word of Hebrew or English, and the staff have poor Hebrew and English themselves. This meant pointing to the pictures of the dishes in the original Haaretz article to order. So while the menu had at least 20 dishes listed, I was only able to order from the five dishes whose picture were take for the article.

We ended ordering Shiro, Goat mutton, another vegetable dish, and two other ones I'm still not sure what their names are. Shiro is a mash of garbanzo beans, onions and the Berbere spice mix. I really liked the Shiro, although Liz and Eitan were not the biggest fans. The goat mutton was easily the best dish served. It has a lot of spicy berbere, and has a very rich and deep flavor. I could have eaten a whole injera filled with the mutton. The other vegetable dish was fine, but uninteresting. We also ordered a kind of dough in the shape of a volcano and some boiled dough with yogurt. They were both fine, but also a bit uninteresting.

The Shiro was scooped from the pot and put on the injera bread

The Shiro and mutton, the dishes with the Berbere really had a great depth of flavor and I would be happy to eat those anytime. I highly recommend visiting Yergelum for the experience and learning about a part of Israeli society that is often ignored or shunned. If you happen to know someone who speaks Amharic you might be able to order anything of the menu too. Who knows what great dishes I missed out on!

The Shiro, goat mutton, and veggies on the injera



  1. Hi, read something about the Injera Teff based bread from your blog, is it a flat bread like chapati or Pita? I bake breads a lot and i am researching on all sorts of breads, and yes, hummus!!! thanks for the post, maybe someday i can visit Israel..

  2. you should have tried toumtoumo, dorho (chiken), dulot (liver), lam and hilbet. these are the best. And eritrean food tastes totally different than ethiopian... you may like the ethiopian or you may like the eritrean, depending on the your taste. But it's impossible to like them both equally because of the difference in the stuff in it.